• Dec 15th 2010 at 1:59PM
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E-Flight Electric Waiex – Click above to watch video after the jump

Echoing the Wright Brother's first moments aloft – when flight distance was more aptly measured by yards than miles – the E-Flight Initiative proof-of-concept Waiex aircraft recently made its maiden flight. The short hop was not the first time a battery-powered flying machine has taken to the skies. Indeed, there have been several who have accomplished relatively long flight times and high speeds. However, for accomplished builder and pilot John Monnett and his team, the first venture off the ground for N270DC was the culmination of four years of work and a huge emotional victory.

The Y-tail craft has its own award-winning proprietary E-Flight system that appears to be under constant development. The set-up that made the flight consisted of a 54 kW brushless DC electric motor powered by a 14.5 kWh lithium polymer battery with the E-Flight motor controller and monitored via custom cockpit instrumentation and controls. The next version of the motor and controller will be installed along with some other new goodies before the plane makes longer flights. Hit the jump for all the details in the press release as well as video of the momentous occasion. Thanks to Andy for the tip!



[Source: Sonex Aircraft]

PRESS RELEASE


E-Flight Electric Waiex Achieves First Flight


The Sonex Aircraft, LLC E-Flight Initiative proof-of-concept electric-powered Waiex aircraft achieved its first flight today, December 3, 2010 at Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh, WI. Piloted by Sonex Founder and E-Flight team leader John Monnett, N270DC made a short hop on runway 27, intended to be a conservative non-pattern flight to break ground-effect and analyze in-flight system performance as the next step in testing. This short flight punctuates four years of development by the E-Flight design team in engineering, building and testing one of the most advanced electric flight packages ever conceived.

"We are very proud of this achievement. The core design team of Pete Buck, Andrew Pearce, John Monnett, and myself would like to thank our staff, families, business partners, and friends in all of their help and understanding through this incredibly challenging project." Said Jeremy Monnett, CEO and General Manager of Sonex Aircraft. "We have a flight envelope expansion plan and will be working on this in the coming weeks and months. We have also already started our motor v4.0 design and motor controller v12.0 to be integrated on N270DC. Many more great things to come on this project!"

"Every first flight of a new aircraft or powerplant design is an interesting experience," said John Monnett, "but with N270DC more than any other aircraft we've built, I experienced just a glimpse of what the Wright Brothers must have felt like flying an unproven system for the first time. The flight was uneventful, as expected, but it represents a huge emotional victory for our team to check this item off the list."

Data from today's flight will be carefully analyzed by the design team and compared to high power ground run data to determine any necessary firmware adjustments before proceeding to full traffic pattern and extended-duration test flights. N270DC is a standard Waiex kit aircraft modified with the installation of proprietary E-Flight electric power components: The E-Flight 54kw brushless DC electric motor, E-Flight electronic motor controller, a 14.5kw-hr lithium polymer battery system, the E-Flight battery management system, and E-Flight cockpit instrumentation and controls.

The E-Flight Initiative electric flight project was first announced to the public at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2007, and many major milestones have been reported in the years to follow as the E-Flight design team worked on this exceedingly challenging project, designing and testing electric power components at the leading-edge of technology. There are many technical obstacles that the team has had to overcome along the way, learning valuable lessons about the technology at each step.

The E-Flight design team's continuing progress can be followed on Sonex Aircraft, LLC's Hornets' Nest Research and Development web site at http://www.sonexaircraft.com/research. An E-Flight mailing list is also available to deliver automated notification of E-Flight progress web postings.

Sonex Aircraft, LLC is a leader in the experimental kit aircraft industry, providing a series of Sport Pilot eligible kit aircraft and producing the AeroConversions line of products which include the AeroVee engine, AeroInjector and ancillary aviation products. Sonex Aircraft's Sonex and Waiex sport planes, and the Xenos sport motorglider offer outstanding performance in an easy to build, easy to fly kit package that can be purchased and completed with full technical support at an unrivaled price. Sonex and AeroConversions product development is committed to providing simple, elegant and low-cost solutions for sport flying. Simply put, Sonex Aircraft and AeroConversions products provide the best performance per dollar. Check us out at www.SonexAircraft.com and www.AeroConversions.com




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  • 24 Comments
      • 4 Years Ago
      solar indeed

      cars are inherently limited in the amount of area they can use for solar collection, planes are not. there could be a case for light freight haulage cheaper than road/rail for things like parcels.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Electric ? How about solar ...
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hxi3kGyyJwg
        • 4 Years Ago
        That's electric. Just not battery electric.
      • 4 Years Ago
      There are a couple of electric planes, and they have made some strides in flight times.

      I would think the lack of noise would be a plus. There is very little maintenance.

      Neil
        • 4 Years Ago
        You might be surprised how much of the noise comes from the prop. I was, when I flew my first electric RC plane.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Does this plane glide? I sure this plane can glide, talk about range anxiety!
        • 4 Years Ago
        Range Anxiety would be much less in a plane.

        With the route to destination already plotted, weather and telemetry for take off and landing computed, and no sitting around idling... the pilot knows if a destination is within range or not.

        There is much less autonomy. The pilot doesn't just decide to take a detour, or run an extra errand, or forget to charge it up one night. Everything is planned ahead of time.

        And not many variables that would alter drastically the range. Climate control is pretty much always on, so that is pre-calculated. Wind at cruising altitude is pretty much known.

      • 4 Years Ago
      Nice start, now to work on the range!
        • 4 Years Ago
        Yeah... this pilot just gave us a new definition of range anxiety!!!
      • 4 Years Ago
      The F-4 had a Y tail. But it was an upside down Y.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I'm a huge EV proponent, but I gotta ask why they even bother trying with electric planes. If it's a struggle to commercialize electric cars, what are the hopes for planes? This looks like it's just a fun recreational plane, so I guess for those purposes, by all means go ahead and have fun. But energy density is gonna need to increase 10 or 100 fold over li-ion before there's any hope of competing with jet fuel. I'm no expert on airplanes, but I'll just make a guess that the this plane would need that motor's full power to maintain a reasonable cruising speed. At 54kW, you'll drain that battery pack in about 15 minutes. A 14kWh li-ion battery pack probably weighs about 350lbs. How much more weight could a plane like this handle? A bigger plane would need more power, so lets just assume that you can scale this up and you'd still be faced with a similar limit on the run time. A ten-fold increase in energy density will get you 150 minute flight times, still not enough for most flights, especially if you need a safety net. My point is that electric flight is gonna be a hobby for a VERY long time to come, so lets save as much fuel as we can by replacing cars with EVs, we need to save that fuel for our planes!
        • 4 Years Ago
        IMO, this is where H2 fuel cells could work well.

        LTAW... yes, I am pro hydrogen today. Call me a flip flopper if you want :P

        The lightweight of the H2 fuel is critical.
        There is no real infrastructure issue since planes must refuel at centralized points at the airports. Which have plenty of land space to accommodate a fuel point.

        The fuel cell costs would need to come down of course. But with the cost of a plane, that is a more realistic goal than with a passenger car.

        The weight of H2 storage tanks would need to come down too. But that is a technical hurdle rather than a fundamental one.
        • 4 Years Ago
        I don't think that's quite true. your math is unhinged and too assumptiony.

        a glider can have drag coefficient of 0.02 and if we say it's 0.03 at adequate lift and the frontal area is 1m2 and we go 50m/s (180km/h) the math says that requires less than 6kW to sustain. the prop is not 100% efficient but if we assume 50% overall that's 12kW of power. that means it flies for more than an hour. or around 200km range. not entirely useless.
        and a pack of 15kWh high density batteries can weigh 75kg with existing tech. far from impossible to double that. say 300km range.

        then it might well be interesting due to cost and reliability.
        • 4 Years Ago
        "IMO, this is where H2 fuel cells could work well."

        Well, I wasn't going to go there, but yes, fuel cells are pretty promising for powering aircraft.

        "The aircraft, called Rapid 200-FC, completed its maiden flight on 20 May 2010, using a completely electrical hybrid power system, comprising a 20kW PEM fuel cell and a 20 kW Li-Po battery. Test Pilot Marco Locatelli carried out a first aero-mechanical take off, followed by an eleven-minute test flight for investigations of the flight envelope.

        Level flight was attained at 700 ft and 130 km/h on a partial fuel cell power setting. Further flight tests were carried out on 26 and 27 May 2010, during which RAPID 200-FC established a new world speed record of 135 km/h for electrically powered class C aeroplanes (four consecutive runs over a 3 km course, as per FAI Sporting Code).

        According to Locatelli, the aircraft showed positive handling qualities and satisfactory engine performance. Higher speeds of 145-150 km/h were measured for tens of seconds during free flight. The plane also broke the endurance record of 45 minutes."

        http://ec.europa.eu/research/transport/news/article_10468_en.html

        The US Air Force will use FC-powered drones, for sure. Part of the development of the hydrogen infrastructure in Hawai'i is driven by the military's interest. (granted, the Phantom Eye uses HICE, not HFC)

        "Equipped with the AEROPAK fuel cell system, Skylark I-LE will offer its users enhanced flight duration, doubling the current endurance of the UAS. Delivering 900Wh net usable energy per liter of fuel, Horizon's new AEROPAK power system successfully passed Skylark I-LE tests with flying colors, proving it is suitable and rugged enough for military use."

        http://www.defencetalk.com/elbit-flight-tests-skylark-uav-with-fuel-cell-power-30537/
        • 4 Years Ago
        This is quite a different case than for a jet aircraft, the speeds are much lower so the energy requirements are much less. We will be seeing this for private aircraft and powered gliders.

        No, we're not going to be seeing commercial electric planes for a long long while, props are too slow for all but the shortest low traffic routes. However, we will see LiIon batteries replacing heavy lead acid batteries in jets, and we might even see LiIon batteries providing electrical power, replacing jet fueled APUs (auxiliary power units)

        We won't be seeing commercial jets fueled by H2, it's too bulky, the fuel tanks would be far too large. However, the efficiency of fuel cells is much higher than the efficiency of jet engines, thus requiring less fuel, so we might see fuel cell powered private planes, and maybe even H2 fuel cells providing electrical power on commercial jets, again replacing jet fueled APUs.

        The most intriguing possibility for commercial jets would be a Hybrid Jet engine, with the intake compressor being powered by an electric motor, most of the thrust being produced by burning jet fuel (or bio-jet fuel) and no turbine to reduce exhaust thrust. Electricity would be provided by high capacity batteries or fuel cells. Result - same speeds as conventional jets, but much higher fuel efficiency.
        • 4 Years Ago
        I only fly RC planes, but my guess is, reliability and expense would be huge factors in favor of full size electric motors. A quick Googling indicates it can cost $14,000 and up up up to overhaul a light aircraft engine, and this needs to be done every 1200-2000 hours.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Joevioco, you're not necessarily a "flip-flopper", as aviation is quite different from road travel. Gas turbines work great as jet engines, but were a total flop for powering cars. I suspect the same will happen with H2 fuel cells.

        Dan, you've got a good point there. Maximum power consumption would only be used on takeoff and rapid climbing, level flight requires much less, descending requires little or no power, depending on the glide angle.
        • 4 Years Ago
        "...and maybe even H2 fuel cells providing electrical power on commercial jets, again replacing jet fueled APUs."

        Yes, we certainly will see FC APUs. Boeing will have them available on the 787.

        "Real applications are emerging though. On board, and reflecting the A320 test, auxiliary power units (APUs) are a prime early candidate for fuel cell power, while environmental controls and power for galleys and entertainment systems also show potential.

        And on the ground, fuel cells look set to debut even sooner, in ground power units and transit buses for example. "A key way forward here is to adopt the technology on ground vehicles," says Srimoolanathan. "The technology is already in place in cars and so on, and testing and safety is less of an issue here, so it should be an easier transition than for in-flight use."

        In time, fuel cells could even provide primary power. As Dale Carlson, executive for advanced engine systems at GE Aviation, says he feels we could perhaps see fuel cells developing from applications for APUs, say, to providing the main propulsive power in aircraft."

        http://www.airforce-technology.com/features/feature89057/

        FC APUs have more benefits than just providing electrical power: they are a source of water for passenger use,
        http://www.fctedi.eu/symposia/effect/organizercontact/100713_V_2_Aircraft_Friedrich.pdf



        All in all, I am just as enthusiastic about all kinds of electrically-powered flights as I am electrically-driven autos. Here's a really nice article that covers many aspects of battery and FC powered flight:

        "The future is electric for general aviation"

        http://www.flightglobal.com/articles/2010/04/06/340170/the-future-is-electric-for-general-aviation.html
        • 4 Years Ago
        ya those are all great ideas. Especially about the refuelling infrastructure, way easier to pull that off at airports than a massive new network of 100,000 fuelling stations across the country. They could even generate the H2 on site, but maybe that's asking too much.

        For H2 storage on the plane, i know I know!! You could store the H2 in a flexible balloon structure, then you could use the buoyancy of the H2 to provide lift, you wouldn't even need wings anymore. Wait... nevermind!
      • 4 Years Ago
      "V tail," not "Y tail"
        • 4 Years Ago
        While I understand where you're coming from, the following quote is from the Sonex website describing this craft.

        "WAIEX (pronounced "Y-X") is simply a Y-tail Sonex."
        • 4 Years Ago
        Hmm, I think you're right - it looks like he's got a little rudder at the back of the fuselage.

        I've seen plenty of V tail planes but this is the first Y tail.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Initial use for electric aircraft would be sport flying or training.

      www.yuneec.com

      www.byeenergy.com

      Yuneec has flight times over an hour. Bye Energy 172 mod could solve fuel problem for training fleets due to EPA ban on lead in aviation fuel. Reduced maintainance and fuel costs may already be below current ICE operating cost.
      • 4 Years Ago
      These electric planes are cool. I don't see them being anything buy cool toys but they are awesome cool toys nonetheless. They really show what you can do with just batteries.

      If you can fly an airplane on batteries then they are certainly light-enough and energy dense enough for cars. The cars just need to be design well to use batteries well. Make them light & aerodynamic. Like that plane!
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